Autonomous Maritime Vehicles – An Integrated Cyber Response Needed

12 July 2016

Amethyst’s Mark Chown investigates

As developments in unmanned and autonomous land-based vehicles continue at pace, it is natural that developments in air and maritime solutions will also be made.  Earlier this month, a symposium[1] was held in the Netherlands where leading experts discussed developments in the world of unmanned and autonomous shipping. 

The benefits of operating unmanned maritime vehicles in both commercial and military use are extensive and the maritime environment, potentially, offers a more favourable safety operating environment for vehicles that are both unmanned and possess a degree of autonomous decision making.  Autonomous maritime vehicles could be both surface or sub-surface and carry out a variety of functions including robotic tasks, transportation of cargo and surveillance of the maritime environment.

Autonomous vehicles are heavily dependent upon information processing to operate in any environment; particularly at sea with an operating environment which is ever-changing. Maritime vehicles need to be equipped with systems to support navigation, communication and operational task execution.  There will be a plethora of data inputs and outputs supported by complex on-board processing via many different wired and wireless protocols, some of which may not have current secure modes of operation.

Cyber risks to autonomous maritime vehicles will differ depending on the nature of vehicle, its size, value, cargo, mission objective, capabilities and where in the world it is operating.  Vehicles could be targeted by criminals, hackers, terrorists, pirates or state sponsored actors; scenarios vary from remote hijacking of a vessel of valuable cargo via deliberate interference of command and control systems, to physical theft of sensitive on board data.

Cyber Response

The most important element of the cyber response will be to gain a clear understanding of the holistic operational, security and safety risks to the vehicle.  An integrated security response needs to be taken that considers physical, technical and operating risks.  The cyber professional must not work in isolation and must be engaged at the outset of a project to ensure that designs are able to respond to a variety of threats, ideally with the ability to easily change a vehicle security configuration.  This will allow autonomous vehicle operators to select an appropriate security posture dependent upon their own risk profile and that of each mission that the vehicle undertakes.

Amethyst has experience at developing security solutions for autonomous maritime vehicles. Should you require any further information please contact


[1] Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium:



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